"Robertson brings a knotted, butter intensity to the underwritten Phillip" (The Times)
"Finlay Robertson lends his son the right air of judgemental fervour" (The Guardian)
"Finlay Robertson brings much-needed emotional motivation to this intellectual terrain ..." (The Stage)
★ ★ ★ ★ Times (subscription needed - printed below)
The Vertical Hour Review
The Times ★★★★
David Hare’s 2006 play was a response to the Iraq war. It’s enormously dense and chewy, a work of ideas rather than action. It’s also nakedly schematic and Nigel Douglas’s production is not without its over-demonstrative, declamatory clangers. However, the interweaving of the personal with the political is so skilful, the viewpoints presented with such eloquent force, that it’s impossible not to be gripped.
The set-up is simple: Nadia Blye (Thusitha Jayasundera), a former war correspondent, now a Yale politics professor, is meeting her English lover’s father for the first time. A liberal GP in rural Shropshire, Oliver Lucas (Peter Davison) remains staunchly anti-war; Nadia supported it and maintains her belief in intervention. Their confrontation is exacerbated by the tension between Oliver and his son Philip (Finlay Robertson), with sexual jealousy festering alongside Philip’s disgust at the messy breakdown of his parents’ marriage and his father’s selfishness.
Notions of healing echo and rebound, from Nadia’s idealistic — and maternalistic — desire to help wartorn states to Oliver’s doctorly blend of compassion and resignation; references to Freud suggest the influence of the subconscious on our best and worst motives. There’s provocation, too, on consumerism (in America, says Philip, “I watch people going to the mall and feel hopeful”) and patriotism, which in the US is a glorious flag to be waved but for Oliver is an unseemly emotion aroused only by the war poets.
The piece is bookended by scenes between Nadia and her American students. These feature choice lines (“Why would I want an open mind?” puzzles one well-heeled brat, blinkered by rampant self-belief), but feel distinctly contrived. Jayasundera and Davison make worthy opponents, though, slugging it out from behind sliding masks of good manners, while Robertson brings a knotted, bitter intensity to the underwritten Philip. Hare’s creation is indisputably, once again, a play for today.